Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Renew the Table: A Frequent Fallacy

Renew the Table is a series of thoughts and opinions concerning the renewal of the Lord's Supper. For more information please see Goals and Disclaimers 

I initially wanted to jump right in to some interesting statistics regarding the frequency of communion, but as soon as I began to interpret the data I became aware of an objection. Answering the objection might have been done simply enough in one or two statements, but I realized that the objection not only needed to be answered, but analyzed. If, as I believe, the objection is false, I thought it would be beneficial to examine why is it false and how it hinders many from thinking a bit deeper about this subject. And here we go.

In abstract thought, the frequency of which the Lord’s Supper is taken in and of itself means nothing. The trouble though is that in reality the Lord's Supper is never alone. Frequent or infrequent partaking of the Supper is an effect. What we believe about the Supper (through theology or tradition) is the cause. This means frequent or infrequent partaking is never the starting point. If our belief about Supper is the cause and frequency of partaking is the effect, then frequency or infrequency can be used as an indicator of belief. The question "What do you believe about the Lord's Supper?" informs the question "How often does your church conduct the Lord's Supper?" The answer to the second question is dependent upon the answer of the first. Because X, therefore Y. Or if you like, Y because X.

I highlight this impact of Cause (belief) and Effect (practice), because it exposes an argument that also gets us to the heart of the matter. An argument espoused by many (knowingly or as I suspect, unknowingly) that tries to sidestep or diverts the deeper issues related to the Lord’s Supper. It's the old maxim: Quality is far greater than Quantity. In this case, meaning that the frequency of the Lord's Supper doesn't matter as long as it is done right. And more than that, the insinuation is often that Quantity will likely lead to a decreasing of the Quality, therefore our infrequent participation in the Supper preserves the "Quality" of the Supper. See what has been done here? See how it is spun? Frequency (or in this case infrequency) is no longer the effect, it is assumed to be the cause. Infrequent communion is believed to be what preserves the "quality", be it orthodoxy or intimacy or whatever else. But as we've seen, this cannot be the case because Frequency (or Infrequency) is the result, the outcome, the effect of a belief. 

When seen in this light, far from settling the issue "Quality is far greater than Quantity" actually begs the question; if a church is sound and faithful in their understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper, then why restrict what can only add and augment the glory of God and the edification of the people in gathered worship? In other words, because frequency is a result, an effect, of our theology of the Lord's Supper, the argument cannot be "Quality is far greater than Quantity" not because it isn't true, but because it's not what we're talking about. Since frequency is a result, the argument must be (if we insist on speaking this way) "Infrequent quality is far greater than frequent heresy". My gut tells me that this is what most people who use the Quality over Quantity argument for Communion actually mean. It cuts closer to the truth and the heart of the matter.

But the reason folks stick to the same old adage is because (when accepted on its face) it blocks our vision, and while some are blissfully ignorant, others are comforted by it because it justifies a held belief. A few, (though I have the feeling that it's more than a few) cling to it like a spooked kid beneath his blanket. If they peek out they might see a ghost and they aren't sure if their belief can handle the truth. But regardless of whether or not people use it as an objection or justification, it is easy to see how “Infrequent quality is greater than frequent heresy” or “Infrequent meaningful intimacy is greater than frequent meaningless familiarity” cuts through the fog and actually gets to the real root of that argument. It clears our vision to see where the truth leads, and in this case, if frequency is the result of our belief and “Quality is greater than Quantity” is just a blanket on our heads (here comes the ghost), then frequent quality must be far greater than infrequent quality (boo!). And that is a tough path for many to walk when their beliefs tell them otherwise.

I must be careful here. I am not now equating Frequent with Good and Infrequent with Bad or vice versa. I am only pointing out a major flaw in an objection that I have seen and have come up against which tries to (knowingly or unknowingly) avoid getting to the root of this issue. Ultimately, the issue isn't frequency. The issue is what we believe about the Lord’s Supper. At the same time however, I want to highlight that frequency is not a neutral subject and that in fact it is actually an indicator of a held belief (known or unknown). Your belief (or your church’s belief) informs your practice. If your congregation celebrates Communion weekly, this is a result of your church’s belief in the Supper. If you celebrate Communion four times a year, this also is based on what your church believes about the Lord’s Supper. There is no way around it. 

This, I hope, helps clear the path before I started using words like robust and healthy and anemic and weak.

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